“Young adult smokers” in the words of Big Tobacco

“Younger adult smokers are the only source of replacement smokers… If younger adults turn away from smoking, the industry must decline, just as a population which does not give birth will eventually dwindle.”

“Younger adult smokers are the only source of replacement smokers… If younger adults turn away from smoking, the industry must decline, just as a population which does not give birth will eventually dwindle.”

“Young adult smokers” in the words of Philip Morris and RJ Reynolds

Younger adult smokers have been the critical factor in the growth and decline of every major brand and company over the last 50 years. They will continue to be just as important to brands/companies in the future.

“The renewal of the market stems almost entirely from 18-year-old smokers. No more than 5 percent of smokers start after age 24. The brand loyalty of 18-year-old smokers far outweighs any tendency to switch with age…”

“Once a brand becomes well-developed among younger adult smokers, ageing and brand loyalty will eventually transmit that strength to older age brackets… Brands/companies which fail to attract their fair share of younger adult smokers face an uphill battle. They must achieve net switching gains every year to merely hold share.”

In 1960 Philip Morris starts using the Cowboy image on its commercials, because the image “Would turn the rookie smokers on to Marlboro… the right image to capture the youth market’s fancy… a perfect symbol of independence and individualistic rebellion.”

1981: a Philip Morris researcher Myron E. Johnston sends a memo to Robert B. Seligman, then Vice President of research and development at Philip Morris in Richmond. The report analyses data for smokers as young as 12: “It is important to know as much as possible about teenage smoking patterns and attitudes. Today’s teenager is tomorrow’s potential regular customer, and the overwhelming majority of smokers first begin to smoke while in their teens ….it is during the teenage years that the initial brand choice is made.”

“At least a part of the success of Marlboro during its most rapid growth period was because it became the brand of choice among teenagers who then stuck with it as they grew older …We will no longer be able to rely on a rapidly increasing pool of teenagers from which to replace smokers through lost normal attrition…”

“Because of our high share of the market among the youngest smokers, Philip Morris will suffer more than the other companies from the decline in the number of teenage smokers.”

Tobacco Industry Documents

Publicly the tobacco companies have always maintained that they do not target youth, but the market logic of selling to teenagers is overpowering – teenagers are the key battleground for the tobacco companies and for the industry as a whole.

Their response has been that peer pressure is the most important aspect in children smoking. But internal documents sharply contradict this, by showing that they set out to aggressively advertise to youth, and even manipulate peer pressure to make people smoke their brand.

The industry knows that very few people start smoking in the teenage years, and if you can “Hook” a youngster early on they could well smoke your brand for life. Indeed, independent surveys show that approximately 60 per cent of smokers start by the age of 13 and fully 90 per cent before the age of 20.

This is the paradox of the cigarette industry – it is both socially and legally unacceptable to advertise to under-age teenagers and children – yet it is to this precise age group that it has to advertise to in order to survive.

The documents show that the tobacco industry:

  • Examined young people as young as five – some studies did not even set a lower age limit. As one executive says “They got lips, we want them.”
  • Thought about using honey and comic strip, as well as advertising, to entice youngsters to smoke.
  • Looked at ways of preventing teenagers from quitting.
  • Undertook studies how to manipulate pubescent/teenage anxieties into making people smoke. Examined the attitudes, aspirations, and lifestyles of the young and how to exploit them. One document says the company needs to “Create a Living Laboratory.”

The documents also show that:

  • Marketing executives set out to present cigarettes as part of adulthood initiation – an illicit pleasure, which like sex, is one of a few initiations into the adult world.
  • Advertisers set out to equate cigarettes with rebellion, self-expression, self-confidence, independence, freedom, adult identity, masculinity for boys and femininity for girls.
  • Two of the most successful advertising campaigns: Marlboro’s Cowboy and RJ Reynolds’ Old Joe Camel pitched their appeal directly to youth.
  • The companies advertised in sports magazines and sponsored motor racing as new ways to market to youth.

What is known – key facts about marketing to children:

  • Cigarette advertising reaches children as young as three. In one study six year olds were as familiar with Joe Camel as Mickey Mouse. Other studies have found that Joe Camel appeals more to kids than adults.
  • Children were most aware of the cigarette brands which are most frequently associated with sponsored sporting events on TV.
  • Nine year old children are receiving the positive message from cigarette advertisements at the age when they are most likely to try their first cigarette.
  • The most commonly remembered brands by 11 year olds are the most heavily advertised.
  • In one study, a third of the 10- and 11-year-olds and more than half of the secondary school children were able to name cigarette brands and sponsored sports.
  • Advertising campaigns targeted at older teenagers and young adults are likely to present qualities which younger teenagers find attractive.
  • Teenagers consume the cigarettes which most dominate sports sponsorship.

The great fallacy promoted by the industry is that by avoiding marketing that is childish, they are somehow avoiding an appeal to children. In fact, advertising to children and teenagers works precisely because it identifies smoking with adulthood.

The teenage years are a time of great aspiration and insecurity, smoking can become a badge or signifier of certain positive values – these are remorselessly nurtured by tobacco industry marketing.

Bullshit in Pills

1957 – Philip Morris: “Hitting the youth can be more efficient even though the cost to reach them is higher, because they are willing to experiment, they have more influence over others in their age group than they will later in life, and they are far more loyal to their starting brand.”

1960 – Philip Morris starts using the Cowboy image on its commercials, because the image “would turn the rookie smokers on to Marlboro… the right image to capture the youth market’s fancy… a perfect symbol of independence and individualistic rebellion”.

1967 – an internal RJR memo: “From a Corporate standpoint, Philip Morris posted a 4 point gain among 14-17 year old smokers, RJR and B&W each lost 2 points.”

1968 – Philip Morris: “A cigarette for the beginner is a symbolic act. I am no longer my mother’s child, I’m tough, I am an adventurer, I’m not square… As the force from the psychological symbolism subsides, the pharmacological effect takes over to sustain the habit”.

1971 – an internal RJR document: “the lower age limit for the profile of young smokers is to remain at 14″.

1973 – a Confidential Memo from B&W’s Assistant General Counsel, outlines: “salient problems now facing the cigarette industry: increased educational programmes to prevent young taking up the practice of smoking”.

1973 – a RJR document: “In view of the need to reverse the preference for Marlboros among younger smokers, I wonder whether comic strip type copy might get a much higher readership among younger people than any other type of copy. It would certainly seem worth testing a heavy dose of this type of copy in a test market to get a research reading on percentage of readership and copy recall”.

1974 – RJR “Marketing Goals” for 1975: “Increase our Young Adult Franchise: 14-24 age group in 1960 was 21% of the population; in 1975 will be 27%. As they mature, will account for key market share of cigarette volume for next 25 years … We will direct advertising appeal to this young adult group without alienating the brand’s current franchise”.

1975 – an internal B&W memo: “when describing market categories and target audiences we use references such as ‘young smokers’, ‘young market’ ‘youth market’ etc …in the future when describing the low-age end of the cigarette business please use the term ‘young adult smoker’ or ‘young adult smoking market'”.

1975 – a report by a Philip Morris researcher Myron E. Johnston to the head of Research at Philip Morris, Robert B. Seligman outlines that: “Marlboro’s phenomenal growth rate in the past has been attributable in large part to our high market penetration among young smokers … 15 to 19 years old … my own data, which includes younger teenagers, shows even higher Marlboro market penetration among 15-17-year-olds …”.

1976 – B&W’s Advertising Objective for Viceroy is to: “Communicate effectively that Viceroy is a satisfying, flavourful cigarette which young adult smokers enjoy, by providing them a rationalisation for smoking, or, a repression of the health concern they appear to need.”

1976 – a RJR document: “Evidence is now available to indicate that the 14-18-year old group is an increasing segment of the smoking population. RJR-T must soon establish a successful new brand in this market if our position in the industry is to be.

1979 – Philip Morris memo: “Marlboro dominates in the 17 and younger age category, capturing over 50 percent of the market.”

1980 – Imperial Tobacco Canada “There is no doubt that peer group influence is the single most important factor in the decision by an adolescent to smoke …Serious efforts to learn to smoke occur between ages 12 and 13 in most case [sic] ….However intriguing smoking was at 11, 12 , or 13, by the age of 16 or 17 many regretted their use of cigarettes for health reasons and because they feel unable to stop smoking when they want to. By the age of 16, peer pressure to initiate others to smoking is gone”

1987 – a study into Tobacco Advertising and Consumption by Joe Tye, Kenneth Warner and Stanton Glantz remarks that: “Approximately 60 per cent of smokers start by the age of 13 and fully 90 per cent before the age of 20. These statistics translate in to the need for more than 5,000 children and teenagers to begin smoking every day to maintain the current size of the smoking population”.

1987 – If the last ten years have taught us anything, it is that the industry is dominated by the companies who respond most to the needs of younger smokers. (Imperial Tobacco, Canada)

1988 – RJR introduce Joe Camel, a new cartoon character. A survey, commissioned by the US Centre For Disease Control finds that the highest increase in youth smoking between 1980-1988 is the year that Joe Camel is introduced.

1995 – Dave Goerlitz, lead model for RJ Reynolds for seven years, says his marketing brief was to “attract young smokers to replace the older ones who were dying or quitting …I was part of a scam, selling an image to young boys. My job was to get half a million kids to smoke by 1995″.

In 2000 MSA, by sending out 28 million free “anti-smoking” textbook, covers to 43,000 schools across America, including elementary schools. The book covers showed Philip Morris’s logo beside images of cobol people snowboarding and having fun. They also bore the words “Don’t smoke,” so students would understand youth were meant to be excluded from the fun and freedom depicted on their book covers.Like any ad for cigarettes, these covers carried the Surgen General’s health warning, but the warning was strategically placed so that, when the cover was properly wrapped around a book, the warning wound up on the inside of the book, less visible than the logo with fun lifestyle images.California’s State Superintendent of Education, Delaine Easton, was not fooled. She issued a letter to all schools in her state urging them to reject these book covers and “take immediate action to thwart this attempt by the Philip Morris Tobacco Co. to reach kids with their message”. Other school officials agreed with her.

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